LATELY, the Nigerian military have been finding themselves in the news for the wrong reasons. When they are not engaging members of other security outfits, especially the police, in a street fight, they are busy beating up civilians, destroying buses provided for public transport or impounding newspapers on the pretext of searching for nonexistent “materials with grave security implications” hidden in distribution vans. News reports recently of their alleged involvement in human rights abuses and extrajudicial killings are just the latest in a long list of infamy that can hardly enhance the image of the military.
Amnesty International, the respected rights group, claimed that the Nigerian military, in the course of prosecuting the ongoing war against the Islamist terrorist group, Boko Haram, in the North-East of the country, perpetrated blatant acts of barbarism, bordering on grave war crimes and violation of human rights. Drawing evidence from film footage allegedly obtained during a trip to Borno State, Amnesty said such atrocities included “horrific images of detainees having their throats slit, one by one, and dumped in mass graves.” A part of the report, quoting the Secretary-General of AI, Salil Shetty, said, “The ghastly images are backed up by the numerous testimonies we have gathered, which suggest that extrajudicial executions are, in fact, regularly carried out by the Nigerian military and CJTF (Civilian Joint Task Force).”
Fortunately, the authors of the report did not say that they actually did the filming themselves and could defend the footage. Nevertheless, the report is not one that can be swept under the carpet because of some far-reaching issues it raised. Only a transparent, thorough and independent investigation will reverse the thinking that the military actually committed these acts. Although the Director of Defence Information, Maj.-Gen. Chris Olukolade, has swiftly dismissed the report, it is not something that should be casually waived away. And if, by any means, a thorough investigation lends credence to the content of the footage and the claims by AI, then those behind the abominable act should be made to face justice.
However, the claim of impersonation made by the military is also worthy of consideration, given the chameleonic nature of Boko Haram operations and their recent activities where they often appear in military uniforms. The murderous group, which has been waging a campaign of terror against the country in the past five years, plans to impose the Sharia form of government on the Northern parts of the country. And it will not be satisfied with just claiming victory on the battlefield but would rather win the public relations war as well.
On many occasions, these Islamists have disguised in military fatigues to commit atrocities, especially in the North-Eastern states of Borno, Yobe and Adamawa. That is how they reportedly descended on Attagara, Agapalawa and Agvaniara villages in the Gwoza Local Government Area. They were said to have carried out the attacks which unofficial reports said claimed about 200 lives, kitted like military men. “When the attackers came, most residents of the community actually thought they were military personnel. It didn’t occur to them that they were Boko Haram. Over 200 corpses are lying in the villages now, yet to be buried,” an online publication, Premium Times, quoted a resident of one of the villages as saying.[eap_ad_2]
Assailants who attacked villages in Plateau State, killing over 100 people, including a senator, Gyang Dantong, and a member of the state House of Assembly, Gyang Fulani, also reportedly dressed in military uniform with bulletproof vests to match. This suggests that the actors in the film footage on which AI based its report could as well have been gunmen other than the Nigerian military. If the report had stopped at accusing the military of shooting, it could have been easier to believe. Throat slitting is actually a specialty of Boko Haram, as confirmed by its alleged “chief butcher,” Mohammed Zakari, who claimed when paraded by security agents recently, to have slaughtered five people.
Without doubt, in the coming days, the activities of the Nigerian military in the frontline states will come under increasing scrutiny. With hardly any hiding place for rights abuses, it will only be in their interest to operate within internationally approved rules of engagement. Beyond that, only an independent investigation will avail them.